April 15, 2014

Police dedicate memorial to Merced’s two fallen officers

A new memorial honoring fallen Merced police officers was unveiled Tuesday during a public ceremony in front of the Merced Police Department.

Police unveiled a monument Tuesday to the two men who have died while on duty in Merced, a constant reminder of the danger officers face daily, according to officials.

Tuesday was 10 years to the day that Officer Stephan Gray was shot and killed in the line of duty. Gray was a seven-year police veteran, who left behind a wife and three children. Gray remained fresh in the minds of family, friends and co-workers who spoke fondly of him during the dedication ceremony.

“We are so blessed, not for the monetary donations (for the memorial), which are appreciated,” said Michelle Gray, the officer’s widow, “for the fact that 10 years after Stephan’s death, members of this community were moved to help create this monument.”

Pausing occasionally to hold back tears, she thanked the hundreds in attendance at the roughly hourlong ceremony. She listed the decades worth of graduations, 4.0 GPAs, athletic achievements and daily “triumphs” that her husband never got to see.

Reflecting on the monument and those moments her husband could not be a part of, she said, she stopped herself from becoming sad and angry. “(The monument) doesn’t stand for what is lost; it stands for what will never be forgotten,” she said.

The monument is about 6 feet tall and is topped by feathered wings and a pair of hands holding a Merced police badge. It’s also surrounded by benches and a flagpole, and the ground is engraved with three words: duty, honor, sacrifice.

Lt. Chris Goodwin described Gray as a caring family man. He also remembered his co-worker and friend as someone who was always singing, always had candy in his pockets and bragged when he out-drove his opponents on the golf course.

Goodwin also said serving with Gray “made me a better officer. I have come to realize that I was never able to thank him for everything that he did for me. He’s probably the force that pushes me to this day.”

The memorial project took about 10 months and was funded entirely from private donations while constructed under the direction of the Merced Police Officer’s Association. Nearly $60,000 was raised for the project.

Geraldine Shaver, Stephan Gray’s aunt, said the memorial will bring her family positive memories of the loved one they lost. “It’s been 10 years, but we feel like it was yesterday,” she said. “We feel Stephan’s presence all the time. This is just another thing that we can look forward to now.”

While many at Tuesday’s ceremony remembered Gray well, the life of the second officer on the monument was still something of a mystery to most in attendance. “I don’t recollect too much. When this happened, I was probably about 9 years old,” said Ronald Leap, the grandson of Sgt. Edward Leap.

Leap, a World War I veteran, died in November 1946 when his vehicle collided with a train. He had been a Merced police officer for eight years.

The officer’s grandson turned the attention to officers serving Merced today. “I just want to honor these police officers for what they have to go through, putting their lives out there every day,” Leap said.

Chief Norm Andrade said risk is a “constant companion” for officers of the department. So, while honoring the fallen officers, the memorial also serves to remind passers-by of officers’ commitment to the city.

“Let this monument stand as a tribute to those we have lost (from) the Merced Police Department over the past 125 years,” Andrade said. “Let this also stand as a tribute to all officers who currently serve our city and our nation.”

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